As the trade deadline approaches (August 2 is just days away now), MLB teams are scouring the also-rans in an effort to bolster their teams, patch holes, and make them the most complete team possible for meaningful September and October baseball. Part of our fun, and maybe my most enjoyable aspect of fantasy baseball, is when we owners get our chance to do the same thing. We will likely never get to be Brian Cashman or Alex Anthopoulos, but those guys don’t get to wheel and deal in their undies on their couch while crushing Oreos, either. Well, probably not. And stop judging, unless you put on a suit for a conference call with some rando league member named RightInThePujols69 or something, in which case, dress for the job you want, not the job you have, I guess.
In this space today I’m looking to give you some hitters to go after that have been underperforming their AVG, SLG, and wOBA. These owners may look at the raw numbers and think “It’s almost August; if it hasn’t happened by now, it’s time to sell,” which may open up a “buy” window for you savvy owners before the window closes for the season in your leagues.
I’ve pulled all of the AVG/xBA, SLG/xSLG, and wOBA/xwOBA (because it takes into account *how* a batter reached base, weighting for quality of hit such as a double being worth more than a single, etc) for hitters through July 29, run the difference between the categories, and am trying help you find player targets that a) have large differences to the positive that b) aren’t also already crushing it, making them really expensive to acquire, and c) still aren’t kinda trash even *with* an expected improvement. For example, Shohei Ohtani ranks highly in both xBA and xwOBA differential, meaning he’s probably got some meat on that bone this year…but the price to acquire him would be enormous, as it should be, so he’s not necessarily a “target.” On the other end of the spectrum is a guy like Jonathan Schoop, who also shows a large difference to the positive in all three areas, but even with the improvement would still only show a .238/.347/.273 line in those three categories. A large improvement from his current state? Absolutely. Something to chase for your fantasy stretch run? Let’s just say if you’re counting on acquiring Schoop to *help* your chances, you maybe should be selling instead of buying in the first place. Plus, Schoop is likely available on waivers anyway.
Marcell Ozuna, OF Atlanta: Ozuna is the biggest “buy” on this list if you go by the expecteds. He’s having a reasonable power year, with 18 homers through July 29. However, his triple slash (using our metrics in this article) sits at a disappointing .223/.405/.296. Back to the expecteds: his xBA is .257 (giving him the 5th highest positive regression on the list), and his xSLG and xwOBA both have the highest positive regression on our list (at xSLG of .492 and xwOBA of .345, respectively). First, why the struggles? Ozuna is walking at his lowest rate since 2018, has the lowest LD% of his career, and is hitting more ground balls than he has since COVID. His BABIP matches the lowest rate of his career (.244), so much of this could be a mixture of some bad luck and a couple handfuls fewer ground balls. Interestingly, he’s also three percent above league average on batted balls with an extremely high launch angle, so he’s got to find that middle-ground line drive launch angle a bit more. Ozuna’s O-Swing% is also the highest of his career, so he’s chasing a bit more than he should. Now for some hope: he’s still hitting the ball hard (max EV of 113.9 mph), has the second-highest barrel% of his career (13.8%), and has a HC% that is almost 6% higher than MLB average. One fix seems pretty fixable–stop chasing bad pitches, because when he makes contact, he’s still hitting the ball hard. Trading some ground balls for line drives would do wonders for his BABIP. If you believe in expected stats, trust his batted ball quality, bet on his bad BABIP luck to change, and make a move for Ozuna.
Jorge Polanco, 2B/SS Minnesota: The expected stats don’t show much growth for Polanco in AVG, but his SLG/xSLG is .429/.475 and his wOBA/xwOBA is .344/.370. There are a lot of arrows pointing up for Polly: the second-highest pull% of his career (good for power), the third-best ISO of his career, and career highs in walk rate (by far, almost double his career average), HardHit%, barrel%, max EV (111.0). He finds himself right in the heart of a strong Twins lineup, shuffling around the 3/4/5 spots. I wouldn’t look for his steals to come back, though, as his speed score is a career-low. Polly is 125th on Razzball’s Player Rater, but bet on him outperforming that ROS.
Ryan Mountcastle, 1B/OF Baltimore: Mountcastle’s current BA isn’t bad at .260, but his xBA brings him to .290. He gets similarly large boosts in xSLG and xwOBA, going from .449 SLG to .511 xSLG, and .322wOBA to .362 in xwOBA. Mountcastle has been useful this year, but these say he’s got another gear of production for the home stretch. His average EV (91.7 mph) is almost three mph higher than his career average, his max EV of 112 is still two mph higher than MLB average, and his barrel% and HH% are career highs. It may be easy to blame the SLG/wOBA on the Orioles’ moving back the left field fence in the offseason, but Mountcastle’s pull% is over 5% lower than it was last year, shifting it to his Center%. Maybe the LF fence is in his head, but I don’t believe there are any MLB parks where it’s easier to hit a HR to center than it is to left field. If he reversed those percentages, it stands to reason he’d add a couple of HRs to his line, increasing his SLG and wOBA in the process. Statcast does say he should have two more HRs than he currently has.
Max Kepler, OF Minnesota: Kepler is another guy who shows major gains in the expecteds, going .244/.279 in AVG, .390/.442 in SLG, and .327/.361 in wOBA. The other guys mentioned are mostly universally owned, so I dove a little deeper on them, but Kepler is a guy available on waivers in many of your leagues and was batting in the middle of the Twins lineup, so if you’ve got a spot you’re rotating he may be worth the free pick-up. He did just fracture his pinkie toe, though, so an IL stint isn’t out of the question. It’s on his right foot, however, and not a load-bearing foot/toe, so it’s possible that he just plays through it and it doesn’t affect him. My medical experience is “put some dirt on it/take some ‘Tussin” so take all of that for what it’s worth (nothing).
I gave you guys to hope on, so here’s one that the expecteds say should be a lot better that I am *not* telling you to try to acquire.
Jesse Winker, OF Seattle: Winker has the 8th highest difference between his AVG/xBA, the 3rd highest difference between his SLG/xSLG, and 6th highest difference between his wOBA/xwOBA. All of this says “Good times ahead!” I wanted to make sure I told you this right up front because when I dive into the underlying metrics, I honestly can’t find reason for hope this year, as it’s just one big Oprah gif of “You get a career worst barrel%, and you get a career worst HH%” and on and on for him when going through his peripherals. The projections must be looking heavily at his history vs his actual 2022 inputs (and the history indeed looks good, so I get it). Don’t look under the hood, y’all–it’s ugly in there. If you can get him for a song, sure, take the chance (great advice, Hoove–”acquire players for nothing or exceptionally little”, wish I’d thought of that!), but do so knowing that I can’t really say “This is bad, but this shows reason for hope. This over here isn’t great, but this right here is a positive.” Even if he were performing at his *expected* rates, they’d *still* be career worsts.